Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Mark: Sincerity over sarcasm? Say it ain't so!

Courtesy of CanWest News Service:

After decades of sarcasm as a second language, it seems almost heretical. But social scientists, happiness researchers and cultural observers alike say all signs point to a movement toward sincerity.

A recent study of some 7,500 newspaper articles finds that readers tend to e-mail stories that uplift and amaze.

The "New Sincerity'' movement, led by National Public Radio host Jesse Thorn, promotes the idea that "the coolest stuff comes from being completely unafraid of being seen as uncool.''

And one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year is Eat, Pray, Love, based on the bestselling book about overcoming cynicism to find enlightenment.

"We all really want to talk about optimism right now,'' says Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome. "There's so much in life to be happy about. And if we don't recognize that, the weight of the world becomes really suffocating really quickly.''

The Toronto man's book, a heartfelt liturgy of the "little things'' - the smell of crayons, the feel of fresh sheets, or getting gas before the price goes up - won't be released until mid-April but is already making Amazon's bestseller lists.

Economic malaise is surely a partial driver. Because humans are hardwired to make themselves feel good, experts say it makes sense, biologically, that we'd double our efforts in tough times.

"The economic crisis has made a lot of people feel really grateful for what they have,'' says Gretchen Rubin, a former lawyer whose recent memoir, The Happiness Project, saw her spend a year test-driving theories on how to be happy. "Taking cheap potshots at things doesn't feel as satisfying as trying to engage in a deep way.''

Even at the lowest point of recession, an Ipsos-Reid survey of 1,012 adults found two-thirds of Canadians were laughing with their partner every day.

The challenge, says Rubin, is overcoming deeply entrenched cultural biases against what REM's Michael Stipe calls the "shiny happy people.''

"There's an assumption that happy people are annoying, and that others are bugged by them, or that they're stupid,'' says Rubin. "But (studies show) it's exactly the opposite: we're very attracted to happy people, feeding off their energy and rating them more highly on things like physical attractiveness and ethical stature.''

Probably a good thing since the latest reports show that when it comes to self-reported happiness, Canada is tied for fourth out of 148 nations.

Even those people whose primary export is sarcasm are looking inward, as evidenced by a recent A.V. Club column declaring, earnestly, that "life is too short to waste on having insincere reactions to insipid things."

The author of that popular piece, Texas-based editor Sean O'Neal, makes clear he's not espousing the end of irony. But after years of pretending to like things he knew weren't worth his time, simply because it seemed amusing to do so, he says being disingenuous has gotten old.

"I'm fatigued by the idea of writing yet another snarky tongue-in-cheek list making fun of Saved by the Bell,'' says O'Neal, 31. "It'll be interesting to see in 10 years if people are still watching bad movies and bad TV shows just because they think it's a funny thing to do. I don't know that they will.''

In a recent half-year study of the New York Times' most-e-mailed articles, University of Pennsylvania researcher Jonah Berger found the more awe-inspiring a story, the greater its likelihood of being passed along. Negative stories didn't find nearly as much traction.

"The data suggests people don't share things just to entertain or for utility,'' says Berger. "They do it to emotionally bond.''

This dovetails with a 2009 Stanford University study that found the older we get, the more likely we are to associate happiness with feeling peaceful. The researchers reported that this change is driven by increased feelings of genuine connection with others as we age.

Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

"Sarcasm feels like a safer way to look at the world sometimes,'' admits Andrea Taylor, a Gen X'er from central Alberta. "But I think you can do that and still be a sincere person.''

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Table of Contents: The Keep

Author: Jennifer Egan
Publisher/Year: Knopf, 2006
Synopsis: Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank whose devastating consequences changed both their lives, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe, a castle steeped in blood lore and family pride. Built over a secret system of caves and tunnels, the castle and its violent history invoke and subvert all the elements of a gothic past: twins, a pool, an old baroness, a fearsome tower. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story — a story about two cousins who unite to renovate a castle — that brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.

What Others Have To Say
The New York Times Book Review
"Some threads of the story are semi-bizarre, others quite sordidly realistic."

San Francisco Gate
"There are stories within stories in this metafictional, slipstream novel."

Book Slut
"It’s like a horror movie that goes to black and you think it’s done, you hope they aren’t going to tack any stupid little not-really-dead bits onto it, but of course they do."

Washington Post
"...what could be a startling exercise in empathy stumbles in the contrivance of using the writing style of Ray, an inexperienced, mediocre author."

Entertainment Weekly
"...frustrates with a dual narrative arc that's unnecessary and pointless."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Line By Line: Jennifer Weiner, Goodnight Nobody

"I blinked in the gloom as the tangle of limbs and hair turned into two extremely attractive people having energetic sex in a position I wouldn't have previously believed physically possible."

"Your bathroom's like a clown car. Do you have a midget in there?"

"Delphine had two of her fingers jammed in a place where ladies of refined breeding don't typically stick their digits--at least not when photographers are nearby."

"Then I got stroll-jacked."

"You should call it E. It makes you sound hipper."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Table of Contents: Faith For Beginners

Author: Aaron Hamburger
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2005
Synopsis: In the summer of 2000, Israel teeters between total war and total peace. Similarly on edge, Helen Michaelson, a respectable suburban housewife from Michigan, has brought her ailing husband and rebellious college-age son, Jeremy, to Jerusalem. She hopes the journey will inspire Jeremy to reconnect with his faith and find meaning in his life . . . or at least get rid of his nose ring.

It’s not that Helen is concerned about Jeremy’s sexual orientation (after all, her other son is gay as well). It’s merely the matter of the overdose (“Just like Liza!” Jeremy had told her), the green hair, and what looks like a safety pin stuck through his face. After therapy, unconditional love, and tough love . . . why not try Israel?

Yet in seductive and dangerous surroundings, with the rumbling of violence and change in the air, in a part of the world where “there are no modern times,” mother and son become new, old, and surprising versions of themselves.

What Others Have To Say
The New York Times
"The novel is consistently amusing, particularly when Hamburger offers barbed observations about the banalities of tourist culture."

"This novel is highly recommended for anyone who is drawn to stories of family affected by the global political context of everyday life."

Frontiers Magazine
The author's shrewd and satirical look at Judaism, and American and Israeli style, is in the great tradition of Philip Roth, and makes for an absorbing read."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: Jennifer Paddock, A Secret Word

Author: Jennifer Paddock
Publisher/Year: Touchstone, 2004

Jennifer Paddock’s debut novel, A Secret Word, focuses on the stories of three young women from Arkansas. The novel begins in high school, with Leigh, Sarah and Chandler sneaking off to a hurried lunch at the local country club. On the way there, they are pursued by the local high school’s star running back whose car suddenly careens out of control and crashes into a ditch. The girls are shocked by what they witnessed but proceed to their lunch as they assume everything is fine given that “he’s wrecked there twice before.” But everything is not fine, and so begins the troubled futures of these three women who are forever tied to this tragedy and each other no matter what path they decide to traverse.

Paddock alternates the story between her three lead protagonists. There is Leigh, the less privileged of the group, whose drunk and promiscuous mother is a constant source of embarrassment. Leigh first finds work in a local dry cleaners and then in an upscale food market. She marries a local musician, more out of location and convenience then actual desire. In a final emotional scene she finally succeeds in standing up for herself and makes plans to move on with her life.

Both Sarah and Chandler go off to college and then New York. Sarah, the most privileged of the group, aims to be an actress even though her acting coach informs her to stick with tennis. Supported by her rich although distant and much married father, she develops a socially acceptable cocaine habit and begins to become enraptured by her inner turmoil.

Sarah relies heavily on best friend Chandler, was also moves to New York in pursuit of a law degree. She becomes briefly engaged to a man she knows she cannot marry, and then involved with one of her bosses’ whose job she eventually assumes. Quite suddenly she must endure the death of her financially over-burdened father, an event that throws her into a depression she cannot shake until she meets the one man who helps regain control again.

Paddock bounces between the different characters with great ease, allowing each to develop on their own terms and in relation to each other. Their relationships with the various individuals in their lives begin to parallel each other, as each woman strives to balance their angst-filled relationships with ones filled with happiness and a sense of calm. Eventually they come to discover that true strength comes from within, and each sets about exploring and accepting the forces that shape their lives with a renewed sense of vigor and spirit.

Much of the story is culled from Paddock’s own life, from the town in which the girls grow up (Fort Smith) to the father who commits suicide to the marriage in Sewanee, Tennessee. Given that Paddock relied so much on her personal life experiences, it is difficult to criticize the shortcomings of the story without sounding as if the criticism is really aimed at Paddock herself. But suffice it to say, A Secret Word lacks boldness and ingenuity in terms of plot and characters. There is not much new to be had in the story and the characters have a “been there, done that” sheen not easily rubbed away.

In her favor, Paddock does have an interesting and invigorating narrative style that makes the book a most pleasant read. She has a fresh voice that is welcoming, and it pulls the reader into the various plot twists and character eccentricities.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Mark: 2009 Hardcover Bestsellers

Publisher's Weekly released their statistics on the best-selling hardcover books of last year. Below we have passed on the top 15 for the fiction and non-fiction sales categories (any book with * indicates that the numbers were not available to the general public, but you can guesstimate pretty well based on the rest of the list).

The fiction list is not all that surprising, with the exception of The Help which seemingly came out of nowhere at the end of 2009 to end up as #3. The numbers are boggling to us, as we refuse to buy a hardcover book. We appear to be in the minority according to PW!

Hardcover Fiction Sales, 2009
1. The Lost Symbol: A Novel. Dan Brown. Doubleday (5,543,643).
2. *The Associate: A Novel. John Grisham. Doubleday.
3. The Help. Kathryn Stockett. Putnam/Amy Einhorn (1,104,617).
4. I, Alex Cross. James Patterson. Little, Brown (1,040,976).
5. The Last Song. Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central. (1,032,829).
6 *Ford County. John Grisham. Doubleday.
7. Finger Lickin' Fifteen. Janet Evanovich. St. Martin's (977,178).
8. The Host: A Novel. Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown (912,165).
9. *Under the Dome. Stephen King. Scribner
10. Pirate Latitudes. Michael Crichton. Harper (855,638).
11. Scarpetta. Patricia Cornwell. Putnam (800,00).
12. U Is for Undertow. Sue Grafton. Putnam (706,154).
13. The Scarpetta Factor. Patricia Cornwell. Putnam (705,000).
14. Shadowland. Alyson Noel. St. Martin's (609,355).
15. The 8th Confession. James Patterson. Little, Brown (606,097).

Hardcover Nonfiction Sales, 2009
1. Going Rogue: An American Life. Sarah Palin. Harper (2,674,684).
2. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment. Steve Harvey. Harper (1,735,219).
3. *Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government. Glenn Beck. Threshold.
4. *Liberty & Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. Mark R. Levin..
5. True Compass: A Memoir. Edward M. Kennedy. Grand Central (870,402).
6. Have a Little Faith: A True Story. Mitch Albom. Hyperion (855,843).
7. It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor. Joel Osteen. Free Press.
8. The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hyperion (610,033).
9. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books Not Bombs. Greg Mortenson. Viking (515,566).
10. Superfreakonomics. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow (487,977).
11. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child. Knopf (10/61) (487,228).
12. Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! Jillian Michaels. Crown (486,154).
13. The Yankee Years. Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. Doubleday (397,954).
14. Open. Andre Agassi. Knopf (11/09) (383,722).
15. *Time of My Life. Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi. Atria.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Table of Contents: Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn
Publisher/Year: Vintage, 1983
Synopsis: Geek Love tells the story of a family. But this image of family is misshapen and bizarre, a reflection cast back at us from the distorting surface of a circus mirror. In a reversal of the conventional wish to produce perfect children, Crystal Lil and Al Binewski set out to give birth to a family of freaks, taking everything from prescription and illicit drugs to insecticides and radioisotopes to engineer their children’s deformities. They want to ensure their children’s success in the carnival and, as Lil says, “What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?” Arturo is born with flippers instead of hands and feet; Elly and Iphy are Siamese twins; Chick, who is nearly abandoned because he appeared normal at birth, can move things with his mind; and Olympia, who narrates the story, is a bald albino hunchbacked dwarf. Having created such a cast of characters, Dunn explores the strange dynamics both within the family and between the “freaks” who perform in Binewski’s Fabulon and the “norms” who come to watch them. Indeed, in one of the novel’s stunning reversals, the audience and the performers cross the boundaries that appear to separate them as Arturo convinces normal people that the way to true happiness is to “liberate” themselves from the straitjacket of their ordinariness by “shedding” their limbs.

What Others Have To Say:
Pop Matters
"Where Geek Love succeeds most is in forcing the reader to reevaluate their perceptions of normalcy."

The A.V. Club
"Geek Love is often excruciatingly nasty...Is there any redemption to be found in the midst of the muck?"

The New York Times Book Review
“Wonderfully descriptive. . . . Dunn [has a] tremendous imagination.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Line By Line: Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World

"There were so many miracles at work: that a blossom might become a peach, that a bee could make honey in its thorax, that rain might someday fall. I thought then about the seasons changing, and in the gray of night I could almost will myself to see the azure sky, the gold of the maple leaves, the crimson of the ripe apples, the hoarfrost on the grass."

"I'd forgotten how your blood flows toward a person when they move, so that all at once, you know what the pull of gravity feels like. And you know that this is something strong and important, something that you need for life, this woman moving through the room."

"I have since wondered if a person can know how deep a thing goes without getting outside of it, without taking it apart, without, in fact, ruining it."

"Now, in my more charitable moods, I wonder if our hardworking community members punished us for something as intangible as whimsy. We would not have felt eccentric in a northern city, but in Prairie Center we were perhaps outside the bounds of the collective imagination."

"It was about forgiving. I understood that forgiveness itself was strong, durable—like strands of a web weaving around us, holding us."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Table of Contents: The Historian

Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher/Year: Little Brown, 2005
Synopsis: The Historian of Elizabeth Kostova's novel is Paul, who years before the novel begins was drawn into a historical search for Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian tyrant who inspired Dracula, when he found a colleague's book with just an illustration of a dragon in its center. Paul's daughter narrates the story, telling of her search for the historical truth behing Vlad the Impaler, to understand her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate. As she explores through ancient texts and clues scattered across Europe, she discovers to her horror that Vlad is the possessor of a ancient evil power and is still alive, or at least at some level of existence. It's an evil that she must confront and understand if her father is to be saved.

What Others Have To Say:
"Kostova has a genius for evoking places without making you wade through paragraphs of description."

The New York Times
"Although ''The Historian'' is wearyingly long, it would be a difficult book to compress."

January Magazine
"Time and again, her story gets tangled up in the travel text, and one gets the feeling she's filling pages rather than storytelling."

London Times
"character is plot"

The Guardian
"Kostova is a whiz at storytelling and narrative pace, and she can write atmospheric descriptions of place, but she has no great sense of the location of language within time, and not much talent for impersonation."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: Lisa Glatt, A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That

Author: Lisa Glatt
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 2004

"A girl becomes a comma like that, with wrong boy after wrong boy,” reflects Rachel Sparks, the lead protagonist in Lisa Glatt’s debut novel A Girl Becomes A Comma Like That. This line is meant to completely encompass Rachel’s entire, fractured existence. She escapes her blistered reality through various liaisons with wrong boy after wrong boy in an attempt to escape her own body, and in an odd way, her dying mother’s body as well. Her quest, and those of the other women in the novel, demonstrates vividly the tenuous and conflicting power relationship women have with their bodies. It can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

The female body and its centrality in forming connections with others and one’s self is the overarching theme of Glatt’s novel. She forthrightly tackles our uneasiness with our bodies through carefully constructed protaganists. There is the central character Rachel, a poetry teacher who consciously uses her healthy body in order to escape from it, drowning herself in drunken and sorrowful sexual escapades that require nothing of her but flesh. She is not required to feel, to think, or connect to anything around her through these acts. They provide, in her view, an ugly respite from having too many connections elsewhere.

Rachel’s pained and shallow emotional explorations via her body stand in sharp contrast to the vivid representations of death and decay that emanate from her mother’s cancer-riddled body. Her mother’s chipper outlook despite recurring breast cancer is a source of great concern for Rachel, as too is her mother’s interest in plastic surgery to reconstruct her breast for balance, “It’s terrible having a D cup on one side and nothing on the other. I feel like I’m going to tip over sometimes—literally fall down.”

There is also 16-year-old Georgia, a teenager with a fractured home life who learned early on that her body was her main avenue for getting attention. Abandoned by her mother, ignored by her brother, and caring for ailing father, Georgia has volumes of repressed rage against the world and herself and forces its expression through her body in attempt to gain control over something.

Ella Bloom, a student of Rachel’s and a nurse at the clinic where Georgia is a patient, sees the body as a disconnected whole, something that must be dealt with externally rather than internally. Her constant exposure to the travesties that can ravage a woman’s body (STDs, abortions) offers a different insight into the concept of bodily connection. This perspective provides a very real, very heartening glimpse into what it really means to be a woman.

Throughout the stories of these four women, Glatt examines the body as a series of parts that can be molded, deconstructed, and manipulated to the will of the beholder. Rachel disapproves of her mother’s willingness to shed her wig, order a vibrator, and fall in love because such activities seem to her to be in contrast to how she views her mother’s body. How can someone take joy in their body when it is committing the ultimate betrayal? Glatt’s repeated references to various body parts (butts that are too big, mouths that puff up like down pillows) serve to examine and reinforce just how interrelated sex and death are in terms of our bodies and our conceptions of them.

Glatt’s writing has an authenticity to it, lending it a credibility that deepens the heartache threaded through the pages. She switches tones from mournful to witty to clever to hopeful to pensive fluidly in order to deliver clever and honest representations of her character’s dilemmas. Glatt has fine debut novel on her hands with A Girls Becomes A Comma Like That; it is exactly what it needed to be -- uncompromising, introspective, and strong.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Mark: National Book Critics Awards

March 10 saw the awarding of the National Book Critics Awards. This year's winners:

Fiction: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Biography: Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey
Autobiography: Somewhere Towards The End by Diana Athill
Nonfiction: The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
Poetry: Versed by Rae Armatrout
Criticism: Notes From No Man's Land by Eula Biss

In addition, a lifetime achievement award was presented to uber-prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates, and New York writer Joan Accocela received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

Which book appeals to you as your next read?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Table of Contents: Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet

Author: Joanne Proulx
Publisher/Year: Viking Canada, 2007
Synopsis: A teenager's gift of premonition becomes a curse in Proulx's confident debut. It's the fall of 2002 in Stokum, Mich., a rank little pinprick of a town, where a night of pot smoking brings about Luke Hunter's prediction that his friend Stan will be crushed by a red van with out-of-state license plates. When the random prophecy comes true, a media madhouse infiltrates Luke's quiet life while his parents remain confused and frustrated. Dubbed the Prophet of Death, Luke experiences more death flashes that become reality. Terrified by his new ability, Luke gets a prescription for a powerful sedative, which stops the visions for a while, but soon they—and his general disillusionment with life—return. As Luke tries to make peace with his psychic abilities, he crushes out on a girl at school and is the subject of an attempted religious intervention.

What Others Have To Say:
Entertainment Weekly
"...a compelling narrative about seeking faith and deftly channels the voice of a disaffected stoner."

Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
"...a dark and funny and unexpected story that will make you glad that you sat down and read it in the first place..."

The Toronto Star
"the book's climax is such a double disappointment."

Pop Matters
"this excruciatingly boring and unoriginal teenage account concerns itself more with the oh-so-important issue of popularity than the ominous psychic presence which it establishes in the very first sentence. "

Monday, March 15, 2010

Line By Line: Jodie Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

"Maybe who we are isn't so much about what we do, but rather what we're capable of when we least expect it."

"If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?"

"It's disappointing to know that someone can see right through you."

"Normal, in our house, is like a blanket too short for a bed--sometimes it covers you just fine, and other times it leaves you cold and shaking; and worst of all, you never know which of the two it's going to be."

"And the very act of living is a tide; at first it seems to make no difference at all, and then one day you look down and see how much pain has eroded"

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Table of Contents: Three Junes

Author: Julia Glass
Publisher/Year: Pantheon, 2002
Synopsis: Three Junes is a vividly textured symphonic novel set on both sides of the Atlantic during three fateful summers in the lives of a Scottish family. In June of 1989, Paul McLeod, the recently widowed patriarch, becomes infatuated with a young American artist while traveling through Greece and is compelled to relive the secret sorrows of his marriage. Six years later, Paul's death reunites his sons at Tealing, their idyllic childhood home, where Fenno, the eldest, faces a choice that puts him at the center of his family's future. A lovable, slightly repressed gay man, Fenno leads the life of an aloof expatriate in the West Village, running a shop filled with books and birdwatching gear. He believes himself safe from all emotional entanglements--until a worldly neighbor presents him with an extraordinary gift and a seductive photographer makes him an unwitting subject. Each man draws Fenno into territories of the heart he has never braved before, leading him toward an almost unbearable loss that will reveal to him the nature of love.

What Others Have To Say
San Francisco Gate
"a warm, wise debut that just happens to focus on a newspaperman, a bookstore owner and, finally, a freelance book designer."

The Telegraph
"...a highly accomplished and sensitive novel..."

The Yale Review of Books
"Glass's critical success is the greatest literary mystery of 2002."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Mark: Canada Reads...And Then There Were 3

And that crashing sound you heard? Fall On Your Knees being voted off the debates, with Simi casting the deciding vote. There was shock, there was awe around the table and likely across the country. An unexpected fall yet not unexpected - you know what we mean?

The vote itself was cool, all the books got one vote. Seems like our panel is getting a little disjointed on where to place loyalties.

Today's debate focused back on Nikolski and Good to a Fault, with a little The Jade Peony thrown in. Nikolski was attacked a bit but Michel held up very nicely. We too found the book a little like an trip through a box of old photographs.

It will be interesting to see if Perdita takes the payback route again and casts against Nikolski or Good to a Fault. We see The Jade Peony as the rightful target as Sam has done very little to defend the book, likely hoping it just coasts through. Not an admirable strategy; at least Perdita did not hold back.

We are all excited for tomorrow morning's last debate and revealing of the Canada Reads 2010 winner!

Book Review: Jennifer Weiner, Good In Bed

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Publisher/Year: Washington Square Press, 2001

Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel Good In Bed is one of the few ‘chick lit’ novels that surpasses the low standard set for its genre by providing a heroine that is more mature and introspective than most of her literary peers. Weiner’s novel was a runaway hit when it was released, and deservedly so. Good in Bed is a witty, satirical, heart-breaking, uplifting novel that goes far beyond the suggestive nature of the cover art and title to provide a realistic examination of one woman’s insecurities regarding our ‘appearance is everything’ culture.

Good in Bed centers on 28-year old Cannie (short for Candace) Shapiro, a successful writer for a paper in Philadelphia who, until recently, was in a long-term relationship with boyfriend Bruce. Cannie learns of their break-up through an article written by Bruce that is published in a national magazine. In fact, the article focuses solely on Cannie, much to her horror. While the article does not mention her by name, she knows all too well she is “C”. Bruce details Cannie’s weight and her private struggles with her body image. He even manages to congratulate himself for having the courage to date a “larger woman”. Like most women, Cannie is obsessed with how she is perceived by others, and her once healthy feelings of self-worth are shattered as her private life becomes fodder for very public laughter and critique.

Cannie is, quite understandably, humiliated and angry with being the topic of her ex’s writing assignment. She locks herself up initially, succumbing to the lure of solitude and alcohol. It is at this point that she begins to convince herself that if she were thin, Bruce would want her back. Battling her self-image issues, she decides to join a study about people wanting to lose weight. It is in this study that she discovers she is pregnant (the result of one misguided encounter with Bruce) and eventually finds the acceptance and love she has longed for most of her life.

Throughout the novel, Cannie spins out of control again and again as she struggles to achieve some stability and understanding. The pregnancy forces her to revisit her past and deal with her father, a painful decision and equally painful encounter for her and the reader. She must also deal with Bruce’s lack of response to the news he is to be a father, and the tragic event that ensues when she comes face-to-face with him and his new girlfriend.

Accompanying Cannie on her journey to full acceptance is an interesting cast of characters. Besides her abusive, neglectful father, we meet her mom who is recently lesbianized and her partner Tanya, whose gravelly voice is easy to imagine. There is also her rebellious, free-spirited sister and withdrawn brother, and various friends and colleagues. These characters are little more than one-dimensional in composition, but they are still key components in Cannie’s self-discovery process and provide some of the more entertaining moments of the novel.

More central to the plot is Maxie, the Hollywood star Cannie is sent to interview and who ends up becoming one of Cannie’s most trusted allies. This relationship is one of the more unbelievable bits of the novel, but given the nature of the story Weiner is telling it is an acceptable narrative point.

Perhaps most importantly though, there is the marvelous and understanding Dr. K , the doctor who runs the study Cannie joins near the start of the novel. He becomes the one person who is always there for Cannie regardless of her circumstances. She is not initially aware of the far-reaching impact he has on her life until closer to the end of the novel when she begins to truly understand who she is and what she wants in life.

At first glance, Good in Bed may seem like a throwaway beach novel but it is much more than this first impression. Weiner examines in detail the psyche of one woman living under the microscope of crippling body image standards. She wisely and thankfully resists the easy option of having Cannie being only a victim. Instead, she positions Cannie as both victim and winner, with neither title nor psychological mindset superceding the other for any length of time. This in itself is a major literary achievement

There is a very personal, inviting style to Weiner’s writing that draws the reader in and compels them to continue accompanying Cannie on her adventures. Cannie is a heroine that every woman can identify with, whether they are struggling with weight issues or not. Weiner’s writing makes it entirely possible for a strong emotional connection between Cannie and the reader to exist, a connection that is a rarity among much of today’s fiction aimed at women.

Good in Bed is a novel meant to be read, discussed, and passed on. Weiner demonstrates how strong a fictional woman can be because of and in spite of her flaws and shortcomings. It is her unwavering belief in her main character that ultimately makes Weiner’s novel Good in Bed a literary experience not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Mark: Canada Reads Underway!

Day 3 of the Canada Reads debates and Generation X is announced as the first book voted off the show. We can't say that we are surprised; it seemed like the panelists came out gunning for it. While it is not a favorite, Roland Pemberton represented it well.

Fall On Your Knees may be next, as some of the same criteria applied to Generation X has been applied to it (e.g too popular, etc) too. Although Good to a Fault has came under some fire as well. Michel Vezina has been defending Nikolski very well, helped along by Simi and Roland, but his stance today about the lack of francophone characters in the other books may well work against him and the book after today. Nobody likes to be told what their books are lacking, Michel! We are thinking that The Jade Peony may the sleeper of the group as it has been a little bit under the radar until today.

Mmmm - stay tuned to see what happens tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Table of Contents: Halfway House

Author: Katharine Noel
Publisher/Year: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006
Synopsis: One day, Angie Voorster diligent student, all-star swimmer, and Ivy League-bound high school senior dives to the bottom of a pool and stays there. In that moment, everything the Voorster family believes they know about one another changes. Set in a small town in New Hampshire, Halfway House is the story of Angie's psychotic break and her family's subsequent turmoil. Each of her family members responds differently to the ongoing crisis: Her father Pieter, a professional cellist, retreats further into his music; her mother begins a destabilizing affair with a younger man; her younger brother, Luke, first pushes away from her then later drops out of college to be closer to her. Though the Voorsters manage for a time to maintain a semblance of the normalcy they had "before," it is not until Angie is finally able to fend for herself that the family is able to truly fall apart and then regather itself in a new, fundamentally changed way.

What Others Have To Say
The New York Times
"Noel writes Angie's manic episodes with a harrowing immediacy, but even better, she captures the fragility of her saner moments."

Entertainment Weekly
" overly splashy way to dramatize Angie's first psychotic break, but Noel deserves immense credit for her precise and delicate description of the grinding years that follow."

Psychiatry Online
"The author seems to be reaching for capturing the ordinary in the extraordinary, and this may be enough for some readers."

Read an excerpt

Monday, March 8, 2010

Line By Line: John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

"The only way you get Americans to notice anything is to tax them or draft them or kill them." 

"Never confuse faith, or belief – of any kind - with something even remotely intellectual." 

"If watching television doesn't hasten death, it surely manages to make death very inviting; for television so shamelessly sentimentalizes and romanticizes death that it makes the living feel they have missed something - just by staying alive." 

"It is amazing to me, now, how such wild imaginings and philosophies - inspired by a night charged with frights and calamities - made such perfectly good sense to Owen Meany and me, but good friends are nothing to each other if they are not supportive." 

"Logic is relative." 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Canada Reads Book Club: Let the Debate Begin!

Here we are, primed on the eve of the Canada Reads debate live on CBC Radio One. After all the reading and discussion, we have determined where we are hanging our debating hat. It was not an easy decision, as all the books had much going for them but the final decider was which novel stuck in our head the longest. And that novel was:

So everyone tune in tomorrow - 11:30AM EST, 9:30AM MST - and let the fun begin!

Book Trailer: Kimberly Derting, The Body Finder

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Table of Contents: The Condition

Author: Jennifer Haig
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2008
Synopsis: The Condition tells the story of the McKotches, a proper New England family that comes apart during one fateful summer. The year is 1976, and the family, Frank McKotch, an eminent scientist; his pedigreed wife, Paulette; and their three beautiful children has embarked on its annual vacation at the Captain's House, the grand old family retreat on Cape Cod. One day on the beach, Frank is struck by an image he cannot forget: his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, strangely infantile in her child-sized bikini, standing a full head shorter than her younger cousin Charlotte. At that moment he knows a truth that he can never again unknown something is terribly wrong with his only daughter. The McKotch family will never be the same.

Twenty years after Gwen's diagnosis with Turner's syndrome, a genetic condition that has prevented her from maturing, trapping her forever in the body of a child, all five family members are still dealing with the fallout. Each believes himself crippled by some secret pathology; each feels responsible for the family's demise. Frank and Paulette are acrimoniously divorced. Billy, the eldest son, is dutiful but distant, a handsome Manhattan cardiologist with a life built on compromise. His brother, Scott, awakens from a pot-addled adolescence to a soul-killing job, a regrettable marriage, and a vinyl-sided tract house in the suburbs. And Gwen is silent and emotionally aloof, a bright, accomplished woman who spurns any interaction with those around her. She makes peace with the hermetic life she's constructed until, well into her thirties, she falls in love for the first time. And suddenly, once again, the family's world is tilted on its axis.

What Others Have To Say
The Boston Globe
"Yet quite aside from the quietness of its writing style, this novel seems to have something missing, and what exactly is absent is difficult to pinpoint."

New York Daily News
"...the pleasure of Haigh's story is in the telling."

USA Today
"Haigh skillfully crafts the narrative to divide it between the five main characters, each of whom offers a very different view of the same events."

The Washington Post
"The title, however, is actually a reference to the condition of the whole McKotch clan and the ramifications of their constitutional, inbred inability to communicate."

Reading Guide
Author Interview

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Table of Contents: Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Author: Ben Fountain
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins, 2006
Synopsis: The well-intentioned protagonists of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara are caught — to both disastrous and hilarious effect — in the maelstrom of political and social upheaval surrounding them. With masterful pacing and a robust sense of the absurd, each story iis a self-contained adventure, steeped in the heady mix of tragedy and danger, excitement and hope, that characterizes countries in transition. Through Fountain's rounded and novelistic prose, these intelligent and keenly observed stories are painted in provocative and vibrant detail across a global canvas.

What Others Have To Say:

"The writing is literary and earnest, full of foreign languages and settings, and unusual and lovely words"

Austin Chronicle
"...Fountain seems to be exploring something vital, his characters acting as acknowledgments of the global community and the complications of being an American in the world at large."

The New York Times
"Rather than glamorize his protagonists through their ties to troubled lands, he humanizes the troubled lands through their ties to his unpretentious protagonists."

Manila Times
"...each story was crafted with richness that can only come from a good mix of searing passion and cold-hearted objectivity."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Line By Line: E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

"And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery."

"Everybody that went away suffered a broken heart. "I'm coming back some day," they all wrote. But never did. The old life was too small to fit anymore."

"Home after midnight from a debate on the wording of a minor municipal bylaw on bottle recycling, he felt like he was a pin in the hinge of power."

"A spinning coin, still balanced on its rim, may fall in either direction."

"If life was an arc of light that began in darkness, ended in darkness, the first part of his life had happened in ordinary glare. Here it was as though he
had found a polarized lens that deepened and intensified all seen through it."